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The female exerciser…You’re stronger than you think!

Disclaimer: I am a male trainer but have spent more than half a decade successfully training female clients of various backgrounds, ages & perceived abilities.

It is quite unfortunate that in this day and age, there are some individuals who still believe that women shouldn’t lift weights, or if they are to lift weights it should be very light weights for high repetitions. They believe that the predominant type of exercise that women should be doing revolves around cardio, and more specifically what is known as steady-state cardio (i.e. walking/running on a treadmill, cross trainer etc for an extended period). I believe, and have seen firsthand, just how outdated this way of thinking is. Now don’t get me wrong, cardiovascular training definitely has its role in a training program and all worthwhile programs will have it built in. However, for it to have the greatest efficiency in changing body composition you are better off doing High Intensity Interval Training, aka HIIT (i.e. stair runs, battle ropes, boxing etc).

All women, of all ages should be weight training as the benefits, both short and long term, are numerous. Decreased instances of bone diseases, improved confidence, increased strength, safer/easier childbirth, and improved posture in combination with massage and foam rolling are some of the benefits of weight training.

From conversations I have had with different women, some things that have become evident include:

  • Being uncomfortable and not wanting to draw attention to themselves while training in bigger gyms (this can include women only gyms)

  • If they have enough confidence to go to the gym, they’re left feeling unsure of what to do regarding weight training

This is where my role as a personal trainer comes into play – offering private sessions, that are focussed around the client and their goals. Also, ensuring that correct technique is used so that the maximum benefit of each exercise can be attained.

When planning training programs for all clients, some principles I use include:

  • Progressive overload

  • Balanced programs

  • Variety

Progressive overload

  • Start by selecting a weight that will give a Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) of 6-8 out of 10.

  • An example, when squatting if a 10 out of 10 for required effort is 40kg, you would use 24-32kg as your starting point

  • Then select the number of repetitions and sets to complete.

  • Working between 3-4 sets with 12-20 reps is quite sound.

  • Using the above information, here is how progressive overload might work.

  • Week 1 of squatting 24kgs for 3 sets of 12 reps.

  • Week 2 of squatting 24kgs for 3 sets of 14 reps (the 2nd week of squatting may actually be the 3rd week of training).

  • This keeps on going until you can get to 3 sets of 20 reps, and then you would increase the weight, and reduce your reps back to 12.

  • If you train with me, you will have experienced this as it’s usually accompanied with the following question, “Daniel, did you make this heavier?”

Balanced programs

A balanced strength program incorporates exercises for your whole body. If you think about your body as being split into top and bottom halves, as well as front and back, a good program will have exercises for these four areas as a minimum. E.g. if you do an exercise for your quads (front of thighs), then there should also be an exercise for your glutes and hamstrings (back of thighs). When you do a chest exercise, you’ll also do a back exercise. A balanced program allows for overall strength to be achieved and maintained, while taking into account any imbalances.


Simply put, this means having a handful of exercises for each body part to reduce familiarity and complacency so that your program isn’t exactly the same set of exercises for every single workout (unless you are training to hit a specific target). E.g. doing push ups, bench press or dumbbell chest fly’s, are all exercises that target your chest. They all won’t necessarily be done in the one workout but spread throughout your program.

If you are unable to access a personal trainer, but have access to gym equipment, follow these same principles to consistently develop your strength and progress with your strength training.

Principles taken from the article in May, are very applicable here too.

Lifting weights won’t make you as a woman ‘bulky’ or turn into she-hulk, and this is because firstly, you do not have high enough levels of testosterone in your system. Secondly, you will need to spend large amounts of time in the gym daily along with eating in a calorie surplus. Not just a small calorie surplus, but a rather significant surplus on a regular basis. For those of you teachers, university students, business owners, office workers and stay at home mums, what lifting weights will do for you is help your metabolic rate to increase. This increase in metabolic rate means you become much better at reducing fat while building muscle. With this increased muscle, you just might be a mum of two on a cruise with enough confidence to wear a bikini, while demonstrating your ability to successfully do chin ups.

If anyone tries to tell you that you’re strong for a woman, correct them and tell them that you are just strong! As Beyoncé says, “Girls run the world” so why not be physically strong while doing it.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free share them with me. 😊


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